Candidates allege access to restricted voter data from Forsyth board of elections; dubious PAC tied to Parmon
A congressional candidate with a dentistry practice in Winston- Salem is alleging that a political consultant told his campaign that he can access privileged and restricted information from the board of elections indicating the number of votes candidates receive during early voting.
Dr. Bruce Peller fired the consultant, Chris Church, last week after publicly disassociating himself with an operation to promote a slate of candidates through a flier handed out by poll workers at early-voting locations. During the first two days of early voting, numerous people reported that the poll workers were misleading voters by implying that anyone not mentioned on the flier was not a Democrat and that some of the poll workers were campaigning inside a restricted area.
Dr. Paula Henao, Peller’s wife, said that when Church came by the couple’s dentistry office to return materials for the campaign he took her aside in an effort to get her to persuade her husband that the campaign couldn’t afford to lose his services.
“He said he can get information directly from the board of elections that nobody else has but him,” Henao said. “I did ask him: ‘How do you do that?’ He said, ‘Well, I have connections.’ He said that as soon as people vote he knows how many ballots go in and how many people voted he would be able to know how many votes each candidate received.”
That kind of real-time information would be useful to a candidate so they could make adjustments to ensure a victory, Peller said.
“I’m talking about how many votes you’re ahead and how many votes you’re behind,” he said. “I’m talking about the ability to bus people into the polls where you know you’re losing.”
Forsyth County Elections Director Rob Coffman said his office has no special relationships with anyone whom they provide information that is not public record and that voting machines do not allow anyone to keep a running tally of votes for individual candidates.
“Somebody’s making up stories if they’re saying they can come up with some scientific method,” Coffman said. “All we can tell is if they voted Republican, Democrat, Libertarian or the nonpartisan ballot. Anybody claiming to get more data than that is using smoke and mirrors.
“There has not been any accumulation of elections results,” he continued. “For one, it’s illegal. To get votes off the iVotronic, which is the machine we use, you have to close the machine. Once you close the machine, you’re closing it for any more voting for this election. You’re turning an election key on that machine where it will no longer work, unless you erase all the information on it. Which would be a very difficult thing to explain.”
Church did not return repeated calls for this story.
The consultant’s reported claim correlates with an allegation by Gardenia Henley, a candidate for governor this year who managed Winston-Salem City Mayor Pro Tem Vivian Burke’s re-election campaign in 2009. Henley said a member of the Democratic Party showed her a report indicating “the final early-vote totals for all the candidates for the 2009 election” before the final day of voting.
“I’ve never seen one,” Coffman said. “We don’t generate any reports from early voting until Election Day. If there is a report, it would be nice to see it.”
Henley wrote in a document called the Henley Report, which details numerous election irregularities and ethical concerns in Forsyth County, that she traveled to Raleigh to meet with top officials at the state Board of Elections and reported that the Forsyth County Board of Elections’ information had been compromised and that the system was networked. She said the officials told her they would look in to the matter.
Peller and Henao said the flier promoting the slate of candidates is a coordinated effort by Church and Earline Parmon, a NC House representative who is seeking election to the NC Senate District 32 seat being vacated by Linda Garrou. Parmon has been quoted by another candidate, Ed Hanes Jr., as downplaying any involvement with the effort, and Parmon has not responded to repeated requests for comment for this story.
The fliers are identified as being paid for by the Forsyth Leadership PAC, a political action committee whose paperwork was received by the state Board of Elections five days after the start of early voting. Heather Leigh-Anne Moore, the committee’s treasurer, told YES! Weekly her purpose for organizing the PAC was to endorse candidates, but she has little, if any, reputation for community involvement among the Democratic and African-American constituencies the flier appears to be targeting.
“Because of Chris Church’s involvement, I don’t have any doubt in my mind that the PAC is corrupt, and it’s up to the individuals[endorsed on the fl ier] to do what they need todo,” Peller said. “I’m glad I’m out of it becauseChris Church has been dishonest to me. I don’tbelieve that Heather Moore is any more thana front and that she’s someone being used byChris.”Peller’s name was removed from thefl ier last week.
The remaining candidatesinclude Parmon; Walter Dalton, a Democraticcandidate for governor; Linda Coleman, aDemocratic candidate for lieutenant governor;Everette Witherspoon, a Democratic candidatefor NC House District 71; John Gladman, aDemocratic candidate for NC House District74; and Jerry Jordan, a Republican running in anonpartisan district court judge election.Church has said that Dalton contributed$2,000 to the PAC.
Pierce Edwards, aspokesman for the Dalton campaign, said in aprepared statement: “We are aware of ForsythLeadership’s endorsement of the Dalton campaign.We encourage all individuals and groupsengaged in political activities to follow statelaw and local rules and regulations as directedby the board of elections.”The Dalton campaign did not respond tospecifi c questions about when they were approachedto contribute to the committee andwhy they decided to participate in the effort.
Coleman, Gladman and Jordan have said inthe past that they do not condone any activitiesby poll workers or supporters that deceive votersor run afoul of election law.Witherspoon has repeatedly denied any specific knowledge of the PAC and has said thathe contributed no money to it, but he acknowledgedthat Church has done some work on hiscampaign.Moore initially resisted Peller’s request thathis name be removed from the fl ier.
In a text message Henao provided to YES!Weekly, Church wrote, “OK, I know thatHeather and Earline have spoken and Heatheris not going to take Bruce’s name off; so heshould really take advantage of the opportunity….Earline understands why Bruce hasconcerns, he has no experience with the processand just doesn’t understand how things operate….But maybe he should even call Heather,Earline, Everette and Jerry…. None of themhave a problem being associated with me or thePAC… because they want to win.”
Contradicting Church and Moore’s assertionsthat the PAC was set up to give Moore aplatform to promote candidates she supported,Peller and Henao’s characterization of theirinvolvement paints a picture of an operationthat depends on candidates for fi nancing, withChurch and Parmon at the center.“He said that Earline wasn’t going to put anymoney down because she was providing all thevolunteers,” Henao recalled from a conversationwith Church.Peller and Henao balked at the initial $8,000request made by Church.“He also said that because Bruce neededmore recognition he needed to pay a littlemore,” Hanao said.
“I said, ‘I’ll pay $4,000and no more.’ He said, ‘I think that will beokay, but I’ll have to get back with you.’ Hesaid Earline agreed to pay $2,000 to lower yourcost. I needed to understand that she was puttingout her volunteers. Chris said, ‘You can’ttalk to anyone in Earline’s campaign about thePAC. If you have any questions, talk directly toEarline.’”Eventually, Peller was offered a free ride, thecandidate said.
“When I said I wouldn’t pay a dime, he saidthat Earline would kick in an extra $2,000 sothat I wouldn’t have to pay anything,” Pellerrecalled. “My conclusion from the whole thingis that they wanted me to sit tight and not sayanything. And they were willing to let me slide.And that made the whole thing stink that muchmore.”The Democratic voters in Forsyth Countywho are relying on the fl ier’s recommendationsto determine which candidates to support atthe polls might be surprised to learn that thewoman who is purportedly making the endorsementshas closer ties to Guilford Countythan Forsyth.
A voter registration record on the state Boardof Elections website lists Heather Leigh Mooreas a registered Republican living at a Greensboroaddress and records that the last time shevoted was in the 2008 general election. No personby the name of Heather Moore is registeredto vote in Forsyth County.
Peller’s campaign fi nance report recordsa disbursement of $620 to Moore at a HighPoint address. Peller said that the payment wasmade by Church, who was acting as campaigntreasurer at the time.“I don’t know what [the payment] was for,”Peller said.
“Chris’ excuse was that she pickedup some supplies for me on her credit card atChris’ request and Chris was reimbursing mefor that expense.”Peller said Church was unable to producea receipt to document the expenditure. WhenPeller summoned Church to his dentist offi ceto return campaign materials last week, thecandidate called the police on his former consultant,accusing him of embezzlement. Pellersaid Jordan, the district court judge candidate,is representing Church in the matter.
“Based on what’s transpired over the pastweek,” Peller said, “I felt there was a robberyin progress.”